Barton Fink (John Turturro, playing a character based on Clifford Odets) is an intellectual playwright who is summoned to Hollywood to work on a screenplay. Shut up in a dismal room in a run-down hotel, he finds himself uninspired by the work, but inspired by the secretary (Judy Davis) who is looking after him. She's a ghost writer for a drunken screenwriter (John Mahoney, whose character was based on William Faulkner) who has seen better days. Also keeping Fink company is a traveling salesman (John Goodman), whose friendly veneer turns out to only be skin deep. And then one morning, after a romantic rendezvous with the secretary, Fink wakes up to find his world transformed from one of isolation and depression... to an utter nightmare that threatens to send him over the edge of madness.